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UN Addresses Underlying Causes of Congo Conflict

New York, Nov 9 2009 3:10PM

While the crisis that plagued eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) last year and threatened to engulf the entire region has eased, some of the factors that led to the fierce fighting and the displacement of hundred of thousands must still be dealt with, a senior United Nations envoy said today.

“The slide to war that threatened the region last year was effectively reversed,” Olusegun Obasanjo, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, told the Security Council today.

“But what we have successfully treated were only the symptoms, not the underlying ailments that have led to repeated crises in the region,” he added. “Without dealing effectively with the underlying issues, peace can neither be durable nor irreversible.”

Some 250,000 people were uprooted last year – on top of the 800,000 who were already displaced in the region – as the Congolese national armed forces, known as the FARDC, battled with the mainly Tutsi National Congress for People’s Defence (CNDP), formerly led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda.

Months of negotiations, facilitated by Mr. Obasanjo and his co-mediator and African Union (AU) Special Envoy Benjamin Mkapa, resulted in the signing on 23 March of the peace agreements between the Government, the CNDP and the other armed groups.

Among the “substantial, if intermittent” progress with respect to the 23 March agreements, Mr. Obasanjo cited the transformation of the CNDP and other armed groups into political parties, the return of many internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes and a “notable warming” in regional relationships, particularly between the leaders of DRC and Rwanda.

At the same time, important provisions of the agreements still remain unimplemented, he said. These include, perhaps most importantly, the identification of means to foster the participation of elements of the former armed group more directly in the political life of the nation, as well as the establishment of a national reconciliation mechanism and reforms in the area of good governance and the proper control of natural resources.

“That these provisions remain to be implemented represents risks to the gains that we have witnessed,” said Mr. Obasanjo.

He said that he has informed Congolese President Joseph Kabila of his intention to step back from an active role in the peace process in the eastern DRC and the Great Lakes region.

Also, in about a month, his Senior Special Adviser will lead a team to the DRC to make a further assessment of progress. Following that, at the end of January, Mr. Obasanjo and Mr. Mkapa, will submit a final report to AU leaders.

The Special Envoy said he is now working to retool his existing support office in Nairobi as a small, dedicated “listening post” that would continue to assess the implementation of the 23 March agreements and regional rapprochement.

He recalled that the relationships in the region had been so fractured at this time last year that Presidents Kabila and Paul Kagame of Rwanda would neither shake hands nor speak to one another when they attended an emergency summit in Nairobi last November.

If anything gave him hope for the future, said Mr. Obasanjo, it was the rapprochement between the DRC and Rwanda and between the two leaders, the fruits of which have been seen in, among other actions, the joint operation against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), an armed militia involved in clashes in North Kivu.

“Generally, an atmosphere of détente and cooperation has developed in the region,” he told reporters after briefing the Council, adding that the 23 March agreements have prepared the foundation for peace and order on which to continue building.

Also welcoming the rapprochement between the DRC and Rwanda were members of the Security Council who encouraged the countries “to build further upon this positive momentum,” Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting of Austria, which holds the rotating Council presidency for this month, told the press.

They also reiterated their deep concern about the impact of the military activities in eastern DRC on civilians since the beginning of 2009, and expressed their support for the recent decision by the UN peacekeeping force in the country, known as MONUC, not to work with units of the FARDC implicated in grave human rights violations.


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